I Moved To Oaxaca

Saturday, January 24, 2004

So one day in class last week the subject of Mexican food came up (again). Amazement that I enjoy regularly eating not just Mexican food, but Mexican street food also came up (again). One of these days I'll have a class whose English is good enough to explain why that is so startling, but in the meantime ... I mentioned I'd eaten the best tlayudas in town. Oh, they said, did you go to the place on Libres? Yeah, near there, on Constitution. Everybody got confused: was that the best place? Where exactly on Libres is the best place? Where is Constitution? (!) And so on until they'd ascertained to their satisfaction that not only had I not had the best tlayudas in Oaxaca, the place where I had gone "was crap." Ivonne drew a map and gave me directions to the real deal. Driving directions, and directions lacking any names other than the street the best tlayudas in Oaxaca is on (Libres) and that it's "near Noticias." And since it's a stand and not a permanent building, no restaurant name. "But," Ivonne volunteered, "Sra. Marta runs it." Oh, and it turns out that the best tlayudas in Oaxaca are served between 10pm and 5am. Why? "Borrachos! they eat the tlayudas!"

Greg took a pass so I went off to get me some best-in-town dinner. I figured, how difficult can it be? I have a street name and approximate walking directions, but as I turned onto Libres (a street I've only been on during the day) I saw fonda after fonda stretching down the street, some doing almost no business, others with big crowds of people and double-parked cars. So I looked for Noticias. I never saw it, so by the time I'd reached La Merced church I just stopped at a likely looking booth and got a couple of memelas to go.

The next day in class, my students were aghast that I still had not eaten the best tlayudas in Oaxaca, so after class one of my students drove me there. Great! Now I knew which fonda it was, but as it was only 9:30p, it wasn't open, and I had an 8am class so we couldn't hang around. Strike two.

But my students couldn't let it go, so Alejandra gave me her phone number and asked me to call her after class Saturday so we could make arrangements to go back to the best tlayudas in Oaxaca stand Saturday night. Greg and I had both had two classes Saturday, and six solid hours of English language instruction is a bit much, so after class, we rolled up the hill to a bar a fellow teacher showed us, and had some beers-n-botanas. Then we rolled back down the hill, I called Alejandra, and we dinked around until about 10:30, when Alejandra, her daughter, and her god-daughter picked me up in Alejandra's green (new) Beetle. Once more to the best tlayudas in Oaxaca fonda. And they were open! And it was packed! And I'm so glad Alejandra was there because the procedure obviously went a lot more smoothly with someone who'd not only been there before but spoke fluent Spanish, because the procedure as far as I could tell was to push up through the crowd to a woman I took to be Sra. Marta or one of her capable assistants, tell her what you wanted, get a ticket, then either mill around or find a seat in the estacionamiento behind the fonda, where someone had set up some white plastic tables and chairs, and a man came by with your food. Although when I go back without my native guide I'll be interested to see how it all proceeds. But in any case, we had a table, chairs, and food. Lots of food. Alejandra, who was born and raised in Oaxaca and doesn't want to live anywhere else, had some pride on the line, so not only was I going to eat the best tlayudas in Oaxaca, I was also going to eat the regional take on the tostada (which I sort of assumed the tlayuda was, but what do I know?). The tostada had what tasted like pickled mixed vegetables on top, along with the black refried beans and queso fresco and cabbage. It was good. So was the atole sampler Alejandra ordered; we had both atole leche and atole chocolate. Then the tlayudas came out. Those mothers are big! I usually see them cooked on a comal, but Sra. Marta cooked hers right on charcoal, and she had the big, platter-sized tortillas really stuffed full of cheese and vegetables when she folded them in half and wetted the edges closed. Like a Mexican wrestler calzone. With a big strip of cecina enchilada (red-chili pork) laid across the top. Since it was about 11:15p by this time, and I'd already had a beer-n-botanas earlier, I'm afraid I made a poor showing. And I was so stuffed by the end I really couldn't tell you whether or not it was the best tlayuda in Oaxaca, but sometimes the adventure, not the food, is the payoff, don't you think?